OneFlorida partner CommunityHealth IT, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting communities with resources to improve the health of Floridians and the economy, has received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to help train a skilled healthcare workforce for rural communities in Florida.
The Rural Roads to Connected Care program will provide eligible individuals living in underserved rural communities in Florida with up to $3,000 in grant-funded job training, instructional services and support to prepare them for healthcare occupations such as community health workers, diagnostic medical sonographers, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, home health aides, medical assistants, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, mental health counselors, child, family and school social workers, and psychiatric technicians.
“We’re focusing our efforts on individuals ages 17 and older who are unemployed or underemployed and who are not enrolled in high school,” said Kendra Siler, Ph.D., founder and president of CommunityHealth IT.
Priority will be given to veterans, military spouses and transitioning service members and the organizations that serve them.
“We are also dedicated to serving a wide variety of individuals demographically, many of whom are not well represented in current apprenticeship programs, including minorities, women, and eligible individuals who previously have been involved with the criminal justice system,” she said.
Siler founded CommunityHealth IT in 2011 to improve community health and medical community financial strength by providing underserved communities with an information exchange, transportation, community-engaged research, digital connectivity and digital security and risk management.
CommunityHealth IT is also part of the OneFlorida Clinical Research Consortium, a statewide research network and data trust established by University of Florida Health researchers in 2010 to help facilitate and accelerate health research in Florida.
The Rural Roads to Connected Care program will coordinate with rural local workforce development boards, education and training institutions, employers, pre-apprenticeships and secondary school career and technical education programs to provide on-the-job training and educational instruction for 250 individuals with appropriate skills and experience for positions in health care.
The grant also provides funding for private-sector healthcare companies that offer apprenticeships and on-the-job training.
According to Siler, rural businesses are more vulnerable to economic downturns, such as the current pandemic, and jobs in rural communities often have less stability and may be more easily lost than jobs in urban areas.
“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many displaced workers in rural communities are in dire financial circumstances and need to identify careers that can more easily weather economic ups and downs,” Siler said.
Siler pointed out that the healthcare industry offers a number of advantages for people living in rural areas.
“Although the healthcare industry is not immune to economic instability, the field is more recession-proof than most industries,” she said. “The pandemic is also leading to changes in how health care is delivered, and it’s likely that those changes will endure even after the pandemic is over.” Changes have been particularly extensive in areas of health technologies.
Health care also provides a multitude of career pathways that are not readily available in other industries, such as hospitality or retail.
“Employment in an entry-level position allows for flexibility to move up the ladder as skills increase when workers retire or otherwise leave the workforce,” she said.
Even individuals with only a high school diploma will be able to participate in entry-level positions and work experience designed to introduce them to the industry and prepare them for skills upgrading and employment.
Because rural areas often face shortfalls of trained staff, there may also be compensation incentives for skilled workers to enter, remain in or return to rural healthcare jobs.
Of Florida’s 67 counties, 30 are designated entirely rural, and another 37 counties are a mix of rural and urban areas.
Three rural areas in Florida—a 10-county swath in the Florida Panhandle, a 14-county area in North Central Florida, and a cluster of counties and communities in South Central Florida, have been designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas by the Florida governor for having shortages of primary care and mental health providers.
Rural Roads to Connected Care will offer individualized and customized training to unemployed and under-employed individuals, primarily in the form of registered state apprenticeship programs and industry-recognized apprenticeship programs.
“We’re working in collaboration with rural healthcare employers to identify, train and employ people who are beginning or changing careers and need to learn occupation-specific and work- readiness skills to become economically self-sufficient,” Siler said.
The program includes ample support services for participants, including transportation vouchers for those who need them and financial support for equipment, tools and uniforms.
“Support services sometimes make the difference between successful participation and a positive employment and training outcome and dropping out or becoming behind in their studies or absent from work,” Siler said. “Our program will provide a safety net of support throughout the course of the program—from the time participants enter the program, during career planning and progress checks, and at key milestones, such as attending new training or obtaining a job.”
- Education Providers: University of Florida, South Florida State College, Indian River State College, Florida Career College
- Workforce Development Boards: CareerSource North Florida, CareerSource Florida Crown, CareerSource Heartland
- Employers: Baptist Healthcare Corporation, DeSoto Memorial Hospital, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare Corporation, Public Consulting Group, Shadow Health, Virtual Physician’s Services, VPS Virtual Health Desk
CommunityHealth IT, Inc. is a 501(c)(6) at the Kennedy Space Center established in 2011 to improve community health and medical community financial viability by providing communities with 1) an information exchange, 2) transportation, 3) community-engaged research, 4) digital connectivity and 5) digital security and risk management. Developed with funding from two federal Rural Health Network Development grants, CommunityHealth IT’s overarching purpose is to ensure that no communities get left behind in the digital divide as healthcare delivery migrates to an electronic platform with the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. CommunityHealth IT prioritizes the patient, social factors, and the community in the care continuum.